Warning: This post contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers.
Did you hear me? Spoilers. Spoilers for a book that is more than 75 years old and a movie that’s only been out for a week.
Are you sure? Okay. You may proceed.
I went to see the last chapter in Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Middle Earth yesterday, steeling my bladder and preparing my objectivity for what would surely be a trying test for each. As most of you can guess, I have been a rabid Tolkienite nearly from birth, and I look back at attending the midnight releases of each installment of the original Lord of the Rings movie trilogy during my formative high school years with a fondness and sense of cinematic wonder that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
But I have been less enchanted by The Hobbit, as I have previously written. LoTR had its own set of disappointments – unfaithfulness not only to the plot but also to the character of a number of the participants – and The Hobbit has been somewhat more egregious on both those counts. While LoTR’s sins could be forgiven, for the most part, by people who haven’t obsessively memorized every line of the original text, The Hobbit includes so much bloat and so much bad, bad storytelling and so much heavy-handed nonsense amidst moments of utterly satisfying beauty and faithfulness to the book and triumph of spirit that I am having trouble organizing my many, many thoughts on the matter.
Let me start with the good things, I suppose. The casting of the key characters remains my favorite thing about the new trilogy, and some very good acting was the only thing carrying some very difficult parts of this last movie. I am enjoying Lee Pace as he establishes himself as a go-to fantasy guy. He’s got the bearing for it, and he pulls off moral ambiguity very well. It’s hard to look kingly while riding a battle moose. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Martin Freeman’s expressiveness, underlying determination, and ability to be comic and sarcastic without being silly never disappoint me. Richard Armitage continued to be fantastic as a brooding Thorin burdened by expectations and descending into madness, even if that madness was marred by stupid special effects and a really clumsily crafted climax that missed the opportunity to be truly effecting as he found his way again.
High point number two is the score. I have always admired Howard Shore’s music, and his ability to carry such recognizable themes through so many different films without being distractingly repetitive is truly a skill. I loved, loved, loved the two Dwarvish songs in the first movie, which were similar to the animated version from 1977 yet matched so well with the ongoing melodies he crafted through all six films. Well done, Howard.
But unfortunately, I think there are more bad things to discuss than good ones, and that makes me very sad. Let’s forget the fact that Smaug got shoved out of the way before the title credits to make room for the 1.5 hour CGI battle orgy. Let’s forget the fact that they got all the archery wrong. All of it. Kinda really wrong. Let’s forget that video game moment where Legolas used his Elven booster pack to defy all sense of believable physics. Let’s forget that Galadriel turned green and Sauron nearly gave everyone a seizure.
Despite the fact that much of the history was really just kind of rammed in there with all the tact and finesse of a cave troll, I was really on board with the idea of expanding the story to explain the rise of Sauron and all of that. Since it is unlikely that the studios will approve the 5,491 movies it would take for Jackson to slog through the Silmarillion, I can understand that he wanted to do as much as he could with the time that was given to him, as Gandalf once said.
And that would have been great. Except that it wasn’t, and he didn’t. The bloat won. It won especially badly in this last installment. When you’re sitting in a theater and you just want to fast forward through a whole scene because you can’t stop cringing and your neighbors start looking at you funny, you know something is amiss. That whole bit at Dol Guldur nearly made me scream. The only interesting thing about that entire affair was the comparatively subtle way that Elrond and Galadriel flashed their rings before they went all Captain Planet on the Necromancer and promptly ruined everything again.
And can we talk about Tauriel? Should we bother talking about Tauriel? After all, by the end of her strange story arc, Jackson seemed just as bored of her as I was. I like Evangeline Lilly, and I think she did the best she could with what they gave her. But she was given the short end of the stick, and that is deeply frustrating.
A “strong female character” she was not. She was barely a character at all. Throughout her role, instead of helping the Dwarves because it is the right thing to do or a good thing to do, she does it because she’s got a crush on Kili. I mean, I can see where she’s coming from. Aidan Turner was delightful, and probably well worth slaying a few orcs for. But that’s beside the point.
She had no independent compass, and barely any individual will. She let Legolas lead her around by the nose just so she could provide opportunities for his dialogue, and even the defiant actions she took against Thranduil were entirely ineffective until Legolas stepped in to back her up while she stood there looking shocked that she hadn’t thought her treason through. She needed Kili and Legolas to save her from Bolg, while she was tossed aside like a rag doll, and she wept helplessly over Kili’s body as she let a man tell her what she was feeling and how to deal with it. I assume she then meekly returned to her place under Thranduil’s command, but we don’t get see what happens after her love triangle falls apart on her. I say “love triangle,” but it was really more a vague blob shape of abortive weirdness with no substance to back it up.
If you’re going to put a token female into a male-driven story just to temper the testosterone, you should at least try to make her interesting. In fact, if you’re going to inject an additional four or five hours of filler into a children’s story in the first place, and if you have ten whole years to think about what you’re going to do if you have a chance to make The Hobbit, you damn well better come up with something a whole lot better than this.
Part of the reason that I’m so disappointed with the overall outcome is because when Jackson gets it right, he really gets it right. Thorin’s death scene was perfectly poignant. The overwhelming sense of fear and futility when cities are being destroyed and the people you love are in peril and you have to stand and fight even though you know you’re unlikely to survive it…that’s the heart of the fantasy genre, and I think that has shone through every single battle scene in all the films. The tensions between the Dwarves and the Elves, the differences in culture and style; the unstoppable rise of Men and the fading of the old ways of the world – those are things that Jackson captures well, and they are what makes his Middle Earth worth visiting even when there are so many reasons to shake my head and sigh.
I just wish he had really taken Thorin’s journey to heart and realized that when you overreach yourself and ignore your better senses, you put the things around you at risk of ruin. Jackson spent so much time gilding the lily that he acquired more than a little dragon sickness from it, and that’s unfortunate. Maybe instead of an extended version, we need someone to cut down all three movies into one cohesive work that is more in line with what Tolkien was trying to achieve. I’d certainly buy a copy.
So how do I feel now that it’s over? Relieved, in a way, that he can’t do anything else wrong. Sad that he won’t have a chance to do anything else right. It’s been a long journey, and he has certainly taken the longest possible way round. I’m glad it happened, but when it comes to The Hobbit, I think I’ll take a cue from Bilbo and stick with my armchair and my books.